by Gaston Leroux
As Christine's father, a celebrated violinist, lay dying on his deathbed, he promised her that he would send the Angel of Music to look after her. Some time later, she joins the chorus of the Paris Opera House. She hears a beautiful voice sing and speak to her, and Christine believes that it is the angel her father promised to send. In actuality, it is the phantom of the Opera House, Erik, a disfigured man living in the deepest bowels of the building. He coaches Christine's vocals, helping her become one of the best singers in the company, but when she reunites with her childhood sweetheart at a gala event the Phantom is filled with jealousy. He kidnaps Christine and threatens to bring death and destruction upon the Opera House unless she returns his love.
Note: For those who care, I listened to the Alexander Teixeira de Mattos translation. It has been criticized for omitting entire passages and chapters, and in the late 90s/2000s four other English translations were made. Unfortunately, the only audio version I could get my hands on was the older translation.
So, The Phantom of the Opera. I am one of those Broadway nerds who LOVES the 1986 musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber – so much so that this past summer I even saw the sequel musical, Love Never Dies. Ugh, it was AWFUL. But I saw it, because I love The Phantom of the Opera that much. I had long been curious about the source material for the show, so when I found a free audio version of the story (thanks, LibriVox!) I decided to give Leroux's most famous novel a try.
I wish I could say that I loved it. Heck, I wish that I could merely say that I liked it. The story recalls the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast - ugly creature falls in love with a beautiful, innocent maiden that he hopes will redeem him to the world – but it updates the story with an atmospheric setting and gothic flair. And the Phantom has become such an iconic monster, thanks to Hollywood and Webber. So I want to love this book!
But the execution is just a mess! Let's start with the characters. They are so emotive and overwrought that they remind me of silent film stars; every gesture and every expressive is simply too much. Christine is an idiot; who the heck is silly enough to believe a line that some mysterious voice is the Angel of Music? She also courts drama so unnecessarily. Raoul tries to get her to leave the Opera House the minute he realizes that she's in danger, but she insists on sticking around to sing once more for the Phantom because she feels sorry for him. What a twit. Make that two twits, because Raoul is incredibly stupid for sticking with this dim bulb of a girl. He's whiny and childish and downright irritating. And don't even get me started on poor widdle Erik. Yes, he's hideously disfigured and it totally sucks that everybody treated him like crap when he was a kid, but that doesn't give him a free license to murder, kidnap, and extort money from everyone he meets. He's a selfish creep, and even though I was clearly meant to feel sorry for him I never could.
There are so many meandering side plots that don't go anywhere. There are so many dreadfully dull conversations in which characters rehash events that ultimately aren't important. There's this one scene that just goes on and on as the opera managers puzzle out how the Phantom managed to steal 20,000 francs from them. It was already established that the Phantom stole and extorted bribes from his hosts, so that scene served no purpose whatsoever!
Gyah. What a freakin' disappointment.
2 out of 5 stars
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